From the gleaming neon lights of Ginza to the hip, youth-centric district of Shibuya, from the cutting-edge Harajuku area to the surreal man-made shopping island of Odaiba, the style landscape in Japan is one of boundless energy and unapologetic sensory overload. Here, the sense that you aren’t just shopping but engaging in a fully fledged experience is very much to the fore. The fashion world is closely connected to the culture at large, and central to that are the music and nightlife scenes, woven into the city’s sharpest fashion as closely as each tiny stitch. When it comes to style in Tokyo, the dance floor and the decks are just as important as the garments.
A city of excitement
‘I love the place,’ exclaims Tank magazine’s fashion director Caroline Issa, discussing the eclectic approach to style that makes Tokyo so distinctive. ‘I find the energy in Tokyo really refreshing. Not only does the urban planning and architecture give you a completely different scale and perspective on a city, but I find the fashion brave and forward thinking, open to completely new ideas, and constantly offering different angles on things – where else could Comme des Garçons and Sacai exist? There’s a constant search for beauty and creativity; there’s a poetry to how fashion is approached in Tokyo.’
And that sense of approaching things from a different angle is nowhere more apparent than in the way fashion and music are intertwined. For everyone from the Comme des Garçons empire to smaller cult labels such as A Bathing Ape, Lad Musician and Phenomenon, music has been more than just a soundtrack to a catwalk show. The relationship is very much a two-way conversation, with music both informing the sartorial output and feeding into the aesthetic of these brands.
Fashion meets music
Streetwear label A Bathing Ape (those in the know call it Bape) is one of the biggest success stories to emerge from the Tokyo fashion scene since it debuted in the early 1990s. It was the brainchild of Japanese creative and entrepreneur Nigo – real name Tomoaki Nagao – and the urban utility pieces for which the label has become known have their roots in the music world. The famously mysterious founder cites early influences as the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC, while his inspiration for setting up the brand was the success of fashion designer and DJ Hiroshi Fujiwara.
All this has served the brand well; A Bathing Ape currently has over 25 stores across the world, as well as a record label, and has gone on to collaborate with a host of names including Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. Nigo’s creative alliance with Williams has also progressed into a more formal arrangement: he’s co-owner of the star’s Billionaire Boys Club clothing line.
Rock and roll ready-to-wear
This spirit of fusing the two disciplines also informs Lad Musician, which was founded by Yuichi Kuroda to evoke the aesthetics of a rock-star god. Skinny drainpipe trousers, leather jackets and a solid black palette mean the collections look ready for any arena tour. Another strong example is Takeshi Osumi’s Phenomenon, which takes its cue from the silhouettes and style of hip-hop culture.
This mixed-media approach is proving so popular that it has begun to spread overseas. Kitsuné began life in Paris in 2002 following a trip to Tokyo by founders Gildas Loaëc – who had previously worked with Daft Punk – and designer Masaya Kuroki, where they experienced the city’s hybrid culture for themselves. ‘Music and fashion have a lot in common … despite the fact that they’re two different worlds,’ Loaëc recently told CNN Style. ‘For us, it was time to put those two activities under one roof and one experience.’
The resulting clothing is playful, whimsical and casual, with the brand’s fox emblem (‘kitsune’ is Japanese for ‘fox’) decorating sweaters, bomber jackets in bold plaid and easy separates. As for the music, a host of cutting-edge bands – including the Klaxons and La Roux – have made their debuts on the record label.
A league of its own
While the concept is slowly spreading, Tokyo as a city remains unique in its fusion of fashion and music, and emerging brands are able to embrace these dual disciplines in a way that’s rarely possible elsewhere. The scene in Tokyo is so distinctive and dynamic that Tokyo Dandy web magazine was launched in 2008 specifically to help outsiders understand the unique set-up, functioning not just as a blog but as a service to pair global brands with dynamic local talent. Firm proof that in Tokyo striking a chord with the style elite means embracing every aspect of the city’s rich culture.